Yuya Wakamatsu might not have main event status at ONE: ‘A New Era’ but he is involved in arguably the biggest fight. That’s because the Japanese fighter has been tasked with welcoming the greatest flyweight of all time to the promotion.

Wakamatsu has been matched with former UFC 125lbs champion Demetrious Johnson in the quarter final of the flyweight Grand Prix. It is a huge challenge for the 24 year old who believes he can rise to the occasion,

“This is the biggest chance of my life. I just need to do my best against Johnson in Japan (but) I think this is fate. A miracle can happen.”

Fighting in the streets

His record stands at 10-3 but Wakamatsu had been fighting since long before promoters started paying him to do so. Growing up in Kagoshima it was a way of life for him as a child,

“Back then, I wasn’t kind to other people. I was trash. I just wanted to show how strong I am (so) I fought with anyone to prove I was the strongest.”

It was during this period that someone first suggested to Wakamatsu that he should try and channel his aggression into a sanctioned form of fighting,

“I fought every day in Kagoshima. My senior recommended mixed martial arts and that’s how I knew about it but it’s super rural (and) there isn’t a place to do it.”

Change of scenery

That situation changed when Wakamatsu’s family relocated to Tokyo. It wasn’t a move he wanted to make but martial arts ultimately proved to be a silver lining,

“When I came to Tokyo from Kagoshima, I didn’t know anyone. I was lonely, I had friends in Kagoshima but it was difficult to move here,” he said.

Watching footage of Ryo Chonan inspired Wakamatsu to join the legendary fighter’s gym in Tokyo,

“His guts and spirit were so cool, I fell in love with him. Chonan’s fighting spirit was similar to mine, so I decided to join (his gym),” he explains.

Last year he challenged for the Pancrase flyweight title, coming up short against Senzo Ikeda in a thriller. The latter recently signed up for the Grand Prix as a late replacement and will face Danny Kingad.

Total confidence

Coming off a decision loss to Kingad makes Wakamatsu a definite underdog in this contest. But the Japanese flyweight is relishing the prospect of testing his mettle against the best fighter in flyweight history,

“This match will be in Japan, so I think it’s made for me. It is a big chance for a guy like me who doesn’t have any belts, because I was a carpenter in Kagoshima until very recently. If a guy like me who used to work a normal job wins against a world champion, I think I will be a superstar.”

Wakamatsu is not wrong on this point and he thinks there is one area where he could have an advantage over the former UFC champion,

“People who watch my videos may think I can’t do grappling (but) I can do grappling I just don’t use it in a match. I have confidence that I can beat him if my punch hits him.”

Wakamatsu knows that no-one is expecting him to win against Johnson. But his belief remains strong and he is determined to score what would rank as one of the biggest upsets in MMA history,

“Nobody thinks I can win (and)I know other Asian athletes are thinking ‘why Wakamatsu?’ but I think I can make something happen. I will certainly win.”